NaVorro Bowman made his official comeback in front of the San Francisco 49ers home crowd at Levi's Stadium, and put together a great performance. He played on the first series, and was instrumental in forcing the Dallas Cowboys into a three-and-out. Bowman had three tackles, one in each of those plays, including two for a loss. Not a bad showing for a comeback.
After the game, he admitted he was a little emotional beforehand. He missed it. He missed the fans. He missed the energy. Why not last week? "It felt right give the fans the first look at me because they do so much for us and we appreciate them. It's the preseason so we kind of had the choice and we wanted to give it back to them."
Bowman would have preferred to be out there longer, but understanding that it's a long season, he wants to be "smart" about his return. Jim Tomsula remarked that he was very happy that it was a three play series because he knew he'd have to pull Bowman off the field and call a time out if it wasn't. Tomsula said the plan all along was to let him go out for only a few plays, five at the most.
When asked about how it felt to see Bowman on the field again, Antoine Bethea said "It made everyone feel good, including the fans. Coming off an injury like that, it's just [about] getting the guy's confidence. Obviously today, the plays he was making, running around making tackles, looks like he's back to normal Bo."
Bowman has been playing with a knee brace which has been adjusted to help him move more freely but he clearly still doesn't like it. He knows it's a necessary evil to keep him out on the field as well as keeping the medical and training staff happy. He also knew he only had a short time on the field and he was going to make the most of it.
The biggest moments was on Tony Romo's third down pass to Lance Dunbar. Bowman explains, "I was baiting Tony, making him think I was blitzing the A-gap, thinking he had running back free on the edge. It was kind of like a bait. I got him to throw the ball to him and made the play."
Even as Bowman talked at the podium after the game you could tell that it has been a long road back to the field for him. He used the phrase more than once. He spent his year and a half away from the field studying game film which helped make his transition back a seamless one. Now that the first series is behind him, there is relief for the fans and for Bowman. "It's a huge relief just knowing I can squat down, take some contact on the knee and move as quick as the guy running the ball." It's a relief for fans knowing that one of their favorite linebackers has returned.
Fooch's note: Here is Bowman's post-game press conference transcript
We keep asking you if you feel like you're back. Do you feel like you're back?
"If I'd have played longer. It felt good though, it felt great. Early on in the warmups, I was a little emotional just being back out there, just seeing the fans and the crowd got me going. I missed it."
Did you want to be out there longer?
"I wanted to be out there longer, but it's early in the year. We have a long road ahead of us, and just want to be smart with it. I knew I had five plays so I wanted to make the best of it."
Why was last week not the right time and this week was?
"I don't know, I don't know. It just felt right to give the fans the first look of me because they do so much for us and we appreciate them. It's the preseason so we kind of had a choice and we wanted to give it back to them."
What did you see on that very first play?
"I don't know, I just wanted to make a play. We have a triangle that we read and it was one of those things where I felt like it was the right play to just shoot the gap and make a tackle for a loss."
Is it hard to keep the adrenaline in check? I know you're just out there for the three plays, but to be able to play with passion, but also to not overdo it?
"A little bit. The guys get excited for me also. I'm shaking because I just got out of the cold tub, so I'm shivering. But, my adrenaline was rushing and it just felt good just to hit someone else, to go out there and make some plays."
The brace on the left knee, have you adjusted to it? Do you feel like you can play like you can play with a brace on?
"I feel better without it, to be honest. To be safe, you want to wear it. I made a few adjustments with it to allow me to move my leg a little better, and I just wanted to make both sides happy, the trainers and me at the same time."
As many snaps as you've had in practice, was there any part of you that thought you had to do it on the field in a game before you could really feel like you were back?
"That was the main thing, just figure out when the right time was to go out there on the field. The guys can see it, me moving around and they all said I look great, so the greats started to add up and to choose to play today was, I just heard enough greats. I was moving around great, so I just wanted to go out there and cross that hurdle."
You guys threw that third down on that play, that last one before you guys stepped off the field?
"I was just baiting [Cowboys QB] Tony [Romo], making him think I was blitzing the A-gap, thinking he had that running back free out on the edge. It was just kind of like a bait, and I got him to throw the ball to him and make the play."
How much longer do you expect to wear the brace? Any way to know?
"I don't know. The right time will come. I still feel a little bit, but I just want to be safe."
Head Coach Jim Tomsula said he wanted to look into your eyes before the game to determine whether or not you would play. When he looked in your eyes before today, what do you think he saw?
"I think he saw that it's been a long road for me, and he knew that I wasn't going to want to come out of the game, so he kind of threatened me a little bit. I didn't want him to have to waste a timeout so I wanted to make the most of my opportunity and have him save a timeout too. So, I just think he saw a long road that I've been down. I put the work in and it was just time for me to go out there and play."
On that third down play, with the corner there, you celebrated a little. What was that moment like for you?
"It was huge. I could feel the meter just rising as I was making those plays back-to-back, and third down is the biggest down. I knew I was coming out, so I just wanted to celebrate with the fans for a little bit."
Despite being out for an entire year, you still look like you're able to pick up all the reads and all the plays and make everything. How do you keep your instincts game-ready for a situation to just come in here and automatically make those plays?
"Studying. Last year I had a whole year to just sit back and see it from a coach's view, and you just want to stay in it. You don't want to seem like you've got it all or you know it all. You always want to try to better yourself. I think that's what the greats do, they find ways to learn in different ways, not just as a player. That's what the year off gave me and I just wanted to show that I'm a student of the game, not just a player."